Blonde Redhead's eighth studio album, Penny Sparkle, is named after a horse in upstate New York that lives at the stable where singer/bassist/songwriter Kazu Makino keeps her own. Makino is a devout horse person. (She's also a sonic ghost-angel, a dream spirit-guide, and an anime warrior queen.) Makino says she feels detached a lot of the time and that riding horses makes her feel more alive and connected to life than anything. She survived and recovered from a terrible horse-riding accident where her face was trampled. She exudes a delicate toughness. When she performs, Makino is completely enveloped in and possessed by the music, as are her twin bandmates, Simone and Amedeo Pace. The trio's meticulous tension has a dreamy pallor. Makino's vocals are sorrowful and poised. She sings like she knows something you need to know. It's pristine. You listen 'til the end because you need to know. We spoke. She did not seem detached.
If Blonde Redhead could have any superpower, what would it be?
To be able to stay at home and on tour at the same time. So I can see my horse every day.
What do you think defines the sound of the new album?
How was it working with the Swedish producers Van Rivers & the Subliminal Kid? How was the studio there?
They were amazing to work with. Their studio in Stockholm was clean and white. Ours in New York was black and chaotic and dirty. We worked in both places.
How did the writing and recording for this album differ from previous Blonde Redhead albums?
My commuting between New York and Stockholm, that was different.
What's your formula?
No formula. That's the problem.
Talk about the song "Love or Prison."
It was a long, long process for that one, hard to remember how it all happened. We laid down the basic chords on different keyboards—Mellotron, Farfisa, and Prophet—and then the bass line on my baritone, of course. Then we recorded a bunch of overtones using voice or simple sounds and notes from the piano. We worked on processing with Drew Brown [Radiohead, Beck]. He sampled my voice using a Roland SP-555. Next, the song went to Stockholm and they added more, including some rarer instruments.
Is there a favorite Blonde Redhead piece of gear? Like a magical compressor or spring reverb?
We like MXR distortion. And our friend Joe Waltz always has some prototypes for us to take on tour and try. We are trying some nice reverb and delay pedals but not sure if they have names yet. And we couldn't play without our picks from California. They are textured and soft rubber—sounds like condoms!
Your six-string bass has a special power, right?
Yes. We always use it to write and record. It's nice to play, and it has a great sound. There's no other six-string like it.
When you think of Seattle, what do you think of?
Pike Place Market, John Goodmanson's old cake-shaped studio, and the suicide rate.
How was playing in Turkey? Do you have any stories about your dog being on tour?
In Turkey, we had to have half an hour intermission during the show because of a prayer schedule. There was an incident where my dog ate drugs off a concert-hall floor. We had to look for an emergency vet at 4:00 a.m., somewhere in Italy.
What's the last dream you remember? If your six-string bass dreamed, what would it dream?
In my dream, I was standing in front of two black doors, I couldn't tell if they were open or not because they were the blackest black. I had to choose one and was so frightened. I woke up and snuggled with my puppy and a family member. My baritone bass dreams about another baritone, wanting to be close.
What are you reading now? I always think of Blonde Redhead as being connected to their songs like a writer is connected to their novel.
I'm reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
What is your favorite book?
Ada, or Ardor by Nabokov.
You're into the Harry Potter, right? If you could do one thing to Dumbledore's beard, what would it be? Would you crawl up inside it and take a nap, or would you trim it off and weave a sweater out of it?
I'm not so familiar with Harry Potter. But I would rather take a nap in his beard. Cool?
Listen to "Love or Prison"